Please, Don’t Be Ignorant

Or at least don’t put your ignorance on display.

Hi Folks,

Ignorance is not a “bad” quality. It just means a lack of knowledge.

But if you choose to be a writer, shouldn’t you at least try to learn everything you can about the language and word usage?

It seems to me we’ve entered an age in which many of us would rather sound cool than illustrate that we aren’t ignorant.

I’m talking about creating nouns of verbs and verbs of nouns and other word-usage anomalies where there’s no reason to. Other than wanting to sound cool.

I don’t mind, really. But it’s still annoying. And disappointing.

When I read the work of a favorite author and see, in narrative, phrases like “should of” instead of “should have” or “should’ve,” it doesn’t completely destroy the reading experience. But it mars it pretty badly.

When I hear that a writer “journals” when what she means is “writes” or “keeps a journal” or “makes entries in a journal” I want to hurl chunks. I know, I know, but bear with me.

When I hear that someone “journals,” I wonder why nobody “diarys.” And why doesn’t anyone “novel” or “short story” or “flash fiction” or “poem”?

“I can’t go tonight,” she said. “It would interrupt my journaling.”

Yeah? Well, I can’t go either. It would interrupt my “short storying” and maybe even my “noveling.”

In the “Of Interest” section of my Daily Journal blog awhile back, I featured an article by Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader.

In that article, he featured an infographic that was titled “The Ultimate Flowchart for Finding Your Next Book.” Perfectly legitimate, that.

But in the title of the article he wrote to showcase the infographic, Nate saw fit to change “Book” to “Read,” as in “The Ultimate Flowchart for Finding Your Next Read.”

Why?

The change doesn’t enhance the meaning of the title. It doesn’t make it more descriptive or more informative.

It only makes me wonder whether the author is actually ignorant or lazy (he isn’t, I believe) or is trying too hard to be innovative. The fact is, “read” used as a noun is horribly disfigured shortspeak for “reading experience.”

I feel the same way when, in a work written for publication, I find “gift” used as a verb in place of the perfectly adequate “give” (or “gifted” for “gave” or “presented”).

And I feel the same way when I hear professionals use “likely” when they mean “probably.” Or when body parts are given human traits (the character’s “nose smelled” “legs raced” “eyes looked” “ears heard” etc.).

Contrary to what some folks believe, I don’t go around looking for instances where the writer’s ignorance is on display. I really don’t. Even when I edit.

I just read. Those instances leap off the page of their own accord and interrupt my reading. And the author’s number one task is to not interrupt the reader while he’s reading the author’s work, don’t you think?

Food for thought.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

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The Use of Italics, Revisited

Hi Folks,

For a very long time, I used italics to indicate unspoken thought and anything that was being read (still unspoken thought) like signs, short notes, etc. (Note: what I accurately call  “uspoken thought” is what others refer to as “internal monologue.”)

One day I sent an assignment in to the instructor in a workshop I was taking online. He enjoyed the story, with one caveat. Each time he encountered italics, he said, it jerked him out of the story.

Well, that’s not good. As a reader, I’ve been interrupted, my suspension of disbelief shattered, by various problems. Often those were formatting issues, usually either ALL CAPS or BOLD CAPS or just bold print. Sometimes, though rarely, it was what I saw as overuse of italics.

Other times it was some technical error that screamed the writer’s inexperience or lack of knowledge, something as simple as Marine being spelled in all lowercase (when talking of a member of the Marine Corps) or the writer using “clip” to mean “magazine.” (They are not the same thing.) As one example, I found mistakes like this regularly in James Patterson’s books; as a result, I no longer even try to read them.

Each time I encountered any of the problems mentioned above, I was shoved out of the story. Understand, this was not my choice. I didn’t go looking for something to annoy me. I was just reading, attempting to be entertained. But when something pops out and shoves you out of the story… well, as I say, this isn’t something the reader chooses.

Sometimes, if the story itself was very good, I muddled through, re-established myself in the depth of the story, and kept reading. Other times, I put the book down and never returned to it. I’m an avid fan of Stephen King, but that even happened with one of his books. The story was very good, but not quite good enough to enable me to ignore the formatting uglies.

Make no mistake: your number one priority as a writer is to not interrupt the reading of your work. Everything you put on the page should advance the story, pull the reader in, and keep him reading.

Of course, you can’t please every reader. No worries. But you’ll please most of them if you remain mindful of things that have jerked you, as a reader, out of a story.

Consequently, I can say without reservation that you should never use ALL CAPS  unless you’re using an acronym (like LAX for Los Angeles Interational Airport) or BOLD CAPS or bold font. Likewise, you should never use exclamation points unless their in dialogue and the character is yelling or screaming. Things like that.

Okay, so back to the use of italics.

After being chastised by my instructor (I’ve read his note several times over the past few months), I unserstood what he was saying. I glanced through several novels by various writers and found that most of them used italics only very sparingly. However, I’ve come to believe he went overboard when he said to “never” use them.

Several months later, I now (again) advocate using italics to indicate unspoken thought, but sparingly.

In my own novels and short stories, I use a combination of methods.

Sparingly, I use italics to indicate unspoken thought when it feels right to allow the reader to “hear” the character’s unspoken thought directly. Of course, that’s always presented in first-person present tense because, well, that’s how it come out when we think. I also sometimes use third-person past tense on occasion, mostly so I don’t overdo it with italics. Look at this example:

   Standing on his porch, he glanced up the street to his left and frowned. No, that isn’t right.

   He looked back to the right. That way. It was only twelve or thirteen blocks—he forgot which, but it wasn’t important—and then a left turn at a particular corner where the main drag sliced through the middle of town. Probably he would pause on that corner, look back and say a final goodbye to his old life. The corner would serve as a final threshold of sorts. He grinned and stepped off the porch.

In this example from my current WIP, No, that isn’t right and That way is his unspoken thought. And notice that I never use “He thought” as a tag line.

Most of the rest of the example is still his unspoken thought, but presented by the narrator:

It was only twelve or thirteen blocks—he forgot which, but it wasn’t important—and then a left turn at a particular corner where the main drag sliced through the middle of town. Probably he would pause on that corner, look back and say a final goodbye to his old life. The corner would serve as a final threshold of sorts.

I could have done it all with italics, but to me that seemed unnecessary and a bit of overkill:

   Standing on his porch, he glanced up the street to his left and frowned. No, that isn’t right.

   He looked back to the right. That way. It’s only twelve or thirteen blocks—I forget which, but it isn’t important—and then a left turn at that corner where the main drag slices through the middle of town. Probably I’ll pause on that corner, look back and say a final goodbye to my old life. The corner will serve as a final threshold of sorts. He grinned and stepped off the porch.

Which version do you like better?

No matter how you present unspoken thought, remember that all description—whether directly from the character or through the narrator—must be filtered through the character’s physical and emotional senses. It is the character’s opinon of the setting that matters, not the narrator’s and not the writer’s.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

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Roberta Jean Bryant’s “Seven Laws of Writing”

Hi Folks,

Recently I pulled a scrap of folded, crumpled, mutilated paper out of my desk. I opened it and found Jean Bryant’s Seven Laws of Writing.

I had actually typed them on a sheet of typing paper, then cut out around them and saved them. I don’t know for sure when that was, but I’m certain it predates the book in which they’re now found (see below).

Anyway, now and then when I look back on this I am amazed it took me so long to learn these incredibly straightforward guidelines.

These “laws” are excerpted (now) from Roberta Jean Bryant’s Anybody Can Write: A Playful Approach (2002). You can find it at https://www.amazon.com/dp/0760731764/. I recommend it. Of course, the book contains a great deal more than these laws.

But for now, here are the Seven Laws of Writing:

1. To write is an active verb. Thinking is not writing. Writing is words on paper.

2. Write passionately. Everyone has loves and hates; even quiet people lead passionate lives. Creativity follows passion.

3. Write honestly. Risk nakedness. Originality equals vulnerability.

4. Write for fun, for personal value. If you don’t enjoy it, why should anyone else? Pleasure precedes profit.

5. Write anyway. Ignore discouraging words, internal and external. Persistence pays off.

6. Write a lot. Use everything. Learning comes from your own struggles with words on paper.

7. Write out of commitment to your ideas, commitment to yourself as a writer. Trust yourself.

There you have it. Writing into the dark, anyone? Add this to Heinlein’s Rules and it’s all you need. Well, that and a keyboard.

Happy writing!

Harvey

Note: This blog is funded only by your gracious contributions. For a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. To consider becoming a patron and reap extra rewards, click Become a Patron. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

Exercising the Idea Muscle

Hi Folks,

When I was speaking at a lot of writers’ conferences, attendees often complained of how difficult it is to come up with story ideas.

I knew what they meant. They meant it’s hard to come up with stories that are born whole, beginning, middle and end. Characters, setting, conflict, and resolution.

Yes, it is. But why would you want to do that anyway? More on that later.

So what is a story idea? Actually, it’s only one kind of a story “starter.”

A full story idea is a character with a problem in a setting. That’s it. The problem might or might not even be ‘the’ problem of the story. Doesn’t matter.

As I said, that’s one kind of story starter.

Other story starters mmight be just a line of dialogue or an action that pops into your head.
It might be an odd characteristic of a character’s face (a cauliflower ear, a nose bent sideways, startling eyes).

Or it might be the aforementioned character with a problem in a setting. But it won’t be a story born whole.

The sole purpose of a story starter (or story idea) is to get you to the keyboard.

As I write this, I’m beginning day 5 of a 30-day short-story-a-day challenge.

Yesterday, as part of my growth as a writer, I made a point of coming up with two new story ideas before I called it a day.

I plan to do that every day through the rest of this challenge. Why?

For one thing, coming up with story ideas at the end of a good day of writing is much easier than coming up with even one good story idea in the midst of waking up in the early morning.

It also alleviates the pressure of having to try to come up with something during that groggy hour or so.

For another, coming up with ideas (story starters) is not difficult, but it’s an acquired habit. To do it easily means to do it regularly. So I’m practicing. I’m exercising the idea muscle.

And it works. I actually came up with three story ideas yesterday. But one of them was born whole.

A line popped into my head, followed closely by the POV protagonist, the antagonist, an extra character, the conflict, and the resolution. The whole story.

I tossed it out.

Why? For the same reason I don’t outline novels.

I write first to entertain myself, to see what the characters are going to do and say, and where the story goes. It’s exciting.

If I already know the end, writing the story will bore me. But what’s really important is that if it will bore me, chances are it will bore the reader.

As always, I’m learning as I go. Part of that is acquiring the habit of exercising the idea muscle.

This challenge is the perfect time to acquire a habit like that.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

Note: This blog is funded only by your gracious contributions. For a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. To consider becoming a patron and reap extra rewards, click Become a Patron. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

Guest Post: In Defence of Grammar Pedantry

by Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

This week, the financial press reported the downfall of a high-profile grammar pedant, Professor Paul Romer, the World Bank’s chief economist, who was hoist(ed) with his own pedantic petard.

He is being replaced as head of the bank’s research arm after he demanded that his colleagues write succinct, clear, direct emails, presentations and reports in the active voice with a low proportion of “and’s”. Romer will remain the bank’s chief economist.

In fact, he had threatened not to publish the bank’s central publication, World Development Report, “if the frequency of ‘and’ exceeded 2.6 per cent”. He had also cancelled a regular publication that he believed had no clear purpose.

Why, you may ask, did the economists who work in the World Bank’s research department take exception to these strictures? Who wouldn’t want the corporate report that was a flagship publication of the bank to be narrow and “penetrate deeply like a knife”? Romer’s 600 colleagues, that’s who. But why?

It seems that, while he was encouraging his staff to avoid their customary convoluted “bankspeak” and consider their readers, he failed to follow his own advice. He was apparently curt, abrasive and combative. The troops refused to fall into line and he was ousted.

Such a shame, Professor Romer, because we need more pruning of the muddy prose that is endemic in so many institutions, particularly banks. We can only imagine how Australia’s four big banks are readying themselves to obfuscate their documents in response to the recent budget measures.

The various shades of pedantry

There are two kinds of people in this world: pedants and everybody else. Pedantry isn’t confined to grammar, of course. Pedantry can be found in architecture, cooking (for example, Julian Barnes’s lovely little book The Pedant in the Kitchen), geometry, music, philosophy, politics and science. Think Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, the most popular show on American television.

Romer’s case, however, highlights the key dilemma of grammar pedants: how do you handle your pedantry so that you don’t lose your job? It depends on what kind of pedant you are.

Do you practise your pedantry privately by just “thinking” corrections at other people when they write “bunker” instead of “hunker” down? Or do you practise your pedantry publicly and thereby subject yourself to taunts of “peevish prescriptivist”, “nit-picking, hair-splitting pedant”, or the more arcane and colourful “pettifogging pedant”?

This sort of abuse rained on Bryan Henderson, the American software engineer who had removed 47,000 instances of “comprised of” from Wikipedia by the end of 2015.

BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman was quoted in The Guardian in 2014 as saying:

People who care about grammar are regularly characterised as pedants. I say that those who don’t care about it shouldn’t be surprised if we pay no attention to anything they say — if indeed they are aware of what they’re trying to say.

Pedants anonymous

I am a fervent believer that grammar provides writers with analytical tools to choose and combine words felicitously into English sentences to a set of professional standards that serve utilitarian needs and provide intellectual pleasure.

However, aware from long experience that it’s rare to be thanked for pointing out a solecism that has made me wince, I attempt to shield the newly minted graduates of my grammar course at The University of Queensland from the potential consequences of sharing their knowledge with those less grammatically alert. To this end, I lead a discussion about their stance on grammar in the final class of the semester.

To counter the negative connotations evoked by the term “grammar pedant” and to celebrate their pleasure in language, they invent playful monikers such as “grammartiste”, “grammagician”, “grammardian angel”, “grammar groover”, “grammartuoso” and “grammasseur”.

Anne Curzan, a grammar maven who contributes to the Lingua Franca blog on The Chronicle of Higher Education, favours “grammando”; I prefer the much less warlike “grammond” (modelled on gourmand, “one who has a refined palate for grammar and savours it at its best”).

That “linguifier” Stephen Fry begs us to abandon our pedantry, but he confines his admonition to non-professional contexts and admits: “It’s hard not to wince when someone aspirates the word ‘aitch’ and uses the genteelism of yourself and myself instead of you and me.”

Fry says that “context, convention and circumstance are all”. And this is what Professor Romer forgot. What we need to abandon is not pedantry. After all, its etymological origins are in teaching.

It is peevish, condescending and competitive pedantry that is the culprit. We could take a lesson from the Bristol engineer who has for 13 years used his specially designed long-handled apostrophiser and step-ladder to remove aberrant apostrophes and plant missing ones on buildings in Bristol and managed to remain anonymous.

The wonderful parodist Craig Brown’s solution may be an even better choice:

It’s always pleasant to go carol-singing, or carols-singing, with the Pedants’ Association, formerly the Pedants Association, originally the Pedant’s Association. I first joined ten years ago with the long-term aim of attracting the requisite number of votes in order to change its title to The Association of Pedants, thus rendering the apostrophe redundant.

The ConversationI’ll leave the uses and abuses of “and” aside for another day.

Roslyn Petelin, Associate Professor in Writing, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Process

Hi Folks,

This is kind of like schedule or routine, but more focused. When I say process here, I’m talking about the process of writing a particular work.

Before I get into that, I just want to mention that I now have books available in nine different bundles, ranging from SF to action-adventure to romance to westerns. To check out these incredible values (newest at the top) see http://harveystanbrough.com/bundles. Thanks for looking!

This topic of Process came up because (as I write this) I’m in or nearing the end game of my current novel. Now, I’m just writing off into the dark so I don’t know yet what the end will be. It might occur in the next few thousand words or it might take another ten or even fifteen thousand, but I know it’s not far off.

And near the end, I’ll run a little low on petrol. And patience. If you lived here and were within hearing, during the last few days of me writing a novel you’d hear me turn into a three year old. “Aaauuuggghhh! I don’t WANNA finish this stupid book! This is so HARD! I gotta take a day off!”

In the alternative, it will be something like, “No possible WAY am I gonna make my goal today.” (That was yesterday. I was saying that all day at about half-hour intervals, and when I finally stopped, I had made my goal plus some.)

Or it will be something like, “Well, I only was able to dribble out a thousand words today, but I’ll take it. I guess.”

I swear, it’s just like listening to a grouchy three year old. And it’s worse in my head, because I’m the one who could turn it off.

But I can’t. I can only let it work through itself.

What keeps me sane, relatively speaking of course, is that I recognize all the whining as part of the process I’ll go through in finishing this novel. It’s the same process I went through in finishing the first twenty-six novels and four novellas. And I know, right now, it’s the same process I’ll go through in writing and finishing the next novel.

But knowing it isn’t the same as experiencing it. Like physical pain, it isn’t something we can recall into existence. If I could, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

Because I can’t stand it. Seriously. It’s the sort of nasal, wimpy, whiny stuff that makes me wanna slap both hands over my ears and run in a circle yelling “Lalalalalalala!” so I can’t hear it.

It’s the shrill sort of thing that makes me wanna grab a rifle and hit a tower and shoot the unruly hell out of anyone who wrinkles up their nose and says, “Who thinks like that?”

Seriously. ‘Cause I do, okay? I think like that.

And I whine when I’m nearing the end-game of writing a novel. And I hate it. Ugh.

So one day if this blog just stops coming, you should feel relatively confident that I’ve finally snapped.

In that event, you may be sure I am sitting naked on a beach in Ecuador counting grains of sand. I’ll probably be angry because I lost count at nine hundred and sixty-eight trillion, seven hundred and fifty-three billion, four hundred and twelve million, seven thousand twenty-six because THAT ONE grain of sand just couldn’t keep its stupid hands to itself. No. It just HAD to jump in line ahead of the next grain of sand, which caused me to count it twice. I think. Maybe.

Which of course means I have to start all over again.

Okay, so what’s your process?

Happy writing,

Harvey

Note: This blog is funded only by your gracious contributions. For a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. To consider becoming a patron and reap extra rewards, click Become a Patron. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

The Power of Schedule

Hi Folks,

I’ve been at this almost-daily writing since mid-October of 2014. Or another way to look at it, I’ve ONLY been at this since mid-October of 2014. Either way, I’ve only recently realized the importance of Schedule.

I’ve read other blogs on this topic and they made perfect sense. Like The Importance of Routines by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

I didn’t skip over them. I read them, absorbed what was useful to me, and moved on.

But again, only recently has it all come together for me. I’m gonna tell you how.

Now first, let me disarm the detractors.

The first thing most younger (meaning less-experienced) writers toss out at me is my own odd schedule. When I mention practically anything about writing to them, they say some version of “Oh, but you start at 3 in the morning. I could never do that.”

My first response is a shrug and “Okay.” And the second is “So?”

The point is, we all have 24 hours in a day. It’s up to each of us to determine how we use that 24 hours. I use about 6 hours of it sleeping. Whether that 6 hours comes out of the middle of the night or the middle of the day, it’s still only 6 hours and it still leaves 18 hours during which I can do all the other things I want to do.

Awhile back I realized when I was a child there were only three channels on TV, yet there was ALWAYS something good on to watch. Pretty much every day in every time slot we had to decide which show to watch and which to pass up, and it was seldom an easy decision.

Today we have hundreds of channels, yet there are only a smattering of programs that are well-written or well-acted enough to even attract my attention. Only one show keeps me riveted day after day, and it’s a re-run of the old NYPD Blue series. Excellent acting, excellent writing, great camera work. It’s a free course on writing in the crime or detective or police procedural genre for the short story, novel and screen.

The beginning of my schedule is about an hour after I wake up and climb outta the rack. The first hour is coffee, emails, other people’s blog posts and so on.

So in my schedule, I have roughly 12 to 14 hours available to me to write, from 3 or 4 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. Now, my “job” is to carve three to four hours out of that time to actually commit words to the page. That’s 3,000 to 4,000 words or thereabouts.

And I find (here’s the power part) if I can get the first 2,000 words or so committed to the page before I go walking (so that’s two to three normal to short writing sessions), I’ll make my daily goal of 3,000 words for that day. If I don’t, there’s almost no chance.

I’m not sure why. I still have plenty of time. There’s just something about coming back from my walk and knowing I have only another 500 to 1000 words to go that invigorates me. And then, as often as not, I shoot right past the goal.

But again, it has nothing to do with the “odd” hours I keep. I still sleep only 6 hours per day and have available the other 18 hours. I just adjusted my sleep/wake time to suit what I consider to be important for me.

I go to bed a little earlier so I miss a lot of stuff on TV that, if I were awake, I’d stare at like a zombie. And then I wake earlier when the world is quieter and more conducive (for me) to writing.

I don’t recommend it for anyone else. We have different lives, you and I, and we prioritize differently. That’s all right.

But what I DO recommend is that—if you want to write (or write more)—you set a goal and then adjust your schedule around that goal to better enhance the chance that you will attain it.

Happy writing,

Harvey

Note: This blog is funded only by your gracious contributions. For a one-time donation, click the Donate button at the top of the sidebar. To consider becoming a patron and reap extra rewards, click Become a Patron. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider sharing this post with your friends. Thanks!

Streams of Income

Hey Folks,

If you’re a writer, and if you’re intelligent enough to have embraced indie publishing, you want as many streams of income as possible off everything you write.

If you aren’t a writer, you can stop reading now.

If you are a writer, but you’re still pursuing an agent and/or a traditional publisher so THEY can make all the money off various streams of income, please stop reading now.

Anyone else, keep reading. For the rest of you, for at least a limited time, I’m offering to answer any questions any of you have regarding getting revenue from your stories, short or long.

The only prerequisites are that you’ve read this topic in its entirety, and that you have downloaded and read the free resources I offer over at http://HarveyStanbrough.com/downloads/.

Those include

The Essentials of Digital Publishing

Quick Guide to Self-Publishing & FAQs

Heinlein’s Business Habits For Writers (Heinlein’s Rules), Annotated

I also recommend you read and study my posts on MS Word for Writers. You can find those at http://harveystanbrough.com/microsoft-word-for-writers/ and they’re all free. Read them especiallly if you’re still using the Tab bar or the spacebar to indent paragraphs.

Basically, getting multiple streams of income first relies on making your work available in as many different venues as possible.

If you “publish” exclusively with Amazon or anyone else, you can’t do that. In fact, if you publish exclusively with Amazon, you aren’t even allowed, legally, to post your short story or novel on your own website.

So that’s the first lesson. Go wide.

I recommend distributing everything you write to Amazon and to Draft2Digital.

Smashwords also is a good distributor that will get you into a lot more minor venues, but I’ve never made a sale (since 2011) in any of those venues. So personally I don’t allot any of my time to uploading my work to Smashwords.

Once you’ve settled on distributors, you can shift into the second level of building multiple streams of income.

Collect your short stories. Collect your novels. Period.

When I have written ten short stories, I automatically have 10 new streams of income.

If I make those stories available (through D2D and Amazon) in nine venues, that means I’ve just created 90 individual new streams of income.

If I also collect those stories in two 5-story collections and one 10-story collection, I’ve just created three more streams of income. Times the same nine venues.

So now, having written 10 short stories, I can received income from 117 different streams of revenue.

Later, there’s no law that says you can’t combine two, three or four 10-story collections into one omnibus collection either. More streams of income.

Of course, you can also group your novels. You can sell the first five books in a series in one book. You can sell the last five books in a series in another book. And you can sell all ten books in a single book.

Again, from having written 10 novels, you’re now bringing in revenue from 117 different streams.

Every time you find a new way to present your work, you create a new stream of income that is multiplied by the number of venues in which you offer that work for sale.

That’s also why I use and recommend BundleRabbit. When your work catches the attention of a curator there and he or she bundles it, you’ve just created yet one more stream of income.

Try it. The math isn’t as difficult as it seems.

And those trickling little streams of income all flow into the same river that feeds your bank account. It really is that easy.

Any questions or comments, please add them below or email me directly at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

‘Til next time, happy writing!
Harvey

Setting Writing Goals for 2018

Hey Folks,

This is a special bonus post to all my Pro Writer subscribers out there. Enjoy!

First, let me recommend you read the comments on Dean Wesley Smith’s post from a few days ago. There are some ideas for goal-setting and challenges there that might resonate with you. For your convenience, here’s the link: https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/getting-ready-for-2018.

What follows is the thought process and rationale that helped me set my own goals and challenges for the upcoming year. I’m including it here in case it might help some of you.

I’ve been wrestling with my commitment to writing new fiction.

My word choice here is intentional. A “commitment” is different, to me, than a “resolution.”
Resolutions generally rattle around in my head for awhile, drop an ulcer into my gut, and then flail off into the eternal past like yesterday’s good news.

I’d rather make a commitment, something that isn’t just a fashion-of-the-day fad. Something that requires (from me) a stubborn determination.

Okay, so as I wrestled with this over the past few months and more intensely over the past few days, Critical Mind said, “Hey, go slow, dude. You’ve been off for awhile.” So I thought about setting a goal to write one new short story per week, nothing more.

Seriously? That would probably be wonderful for some folks. After all, that’s 3 – 6 dedicated hours per week of putting new words on the page. As such, it’s certainly nothing to snort at.

But I don’t have children to raise or a day job that consumes my existence. So what in the world would I do with the rest of my time?

I know me. I’d waste it.

Besides, I’m one of those guys who understands if I’ve done something once I can do it again, barring physical limitations. For example, I’ll never run 3 miles in under 18 minutes again, but I did 46 years ago. (grin)

Okay, so it’s time to get real, and nothing is more real than math.

  • Back in 2015, I wrote 686,146 words of fiction, an average of 1880 words per day. (I wrote 719,084 words overall).
  • In 2016, I wrote 702,838 words of fiction, an average of 1926 words per day. (I wrote 976,298 words overall).
  • But this year I wrote only 453,762 words of new fiction. That’s an average of only 1243 words per day. Overall this year I will have written around 640,000 words, less than my fiction-only output in either of the preceding years.

So how can I use this information? Well, I’m setting new writing goals for 2018. Duh. And I like (very much) to better my personal best.

So my subconscious said, “Y’know, we’ve easily hit 3000 and even 4000 words on most days when you let us play.” (We hit more than that on other days, but not so easily.) “So we think our new DAILY goal should be 2500 words.”

“Okay,” said I.

Sensing a trick, my subconscious said, “To be clear, we are not allowed to stop until we’ve written at least 2500 new words of fiction.”

Well, that’s only two to three hours per day. Every day.

Okay, that still sounded reasonable, but with one modification.

I said, “Deal, but I’ll take a day off without guilt when life intervenes or when I just want to.”

My subconscious grumbled a bit, then backed off, its little arms crossed over its chest. “Whatever,” it said.

But that’s all right. My modification was necessary, so that’s that. For example, I have some camping to do (my funny friend says “cramping”) and some family visits coming up. Things like that.

Plus (as I told my subconscious), what matters with this kind of goal is the average. After all, the target word count is a minimum. Any words over 2500 go into the bank and count toward the average.

Folks, I’m establishing goals to drive me to the computer, not to drive me to drink. It’s all about production, not pressure.

If I can manage a little more on average (2740 words per day), I will have hit that elusive goal of 1,000,000 words of fiction in 2018. Wouldn’t that be nice?

And Dean, my unintentional mentor, recommends what he calls a “fall-back goal.” I get that.

So even if I fall short, if I write at least 2055 words per day on average, I will have written 750,000 words of fiction. And that’s not too shabby.

At that point, my subconscious was convinced and fully on board. And my conscious mind shut up and went to sit in her assigned corner. (Yes, she’s female. Do I need to explain?)

Okay, so for calendar year 2018

  • my daily goal is 2500 words of new fiction per day;
  • my stretch goal is 1,000,000 words of new fiction; and
  • my fall-back goal is 750,000 words of new fiction.

And regarding my conscious mind’s nagging admonition to go slow?

Well, note that these are all strictly word-production goals.

Some of those words will go into short stories, some into novelettes and novellas, and some into novels.

But I’m not setting specific goals in that regard. I don’t need them.

I already know I can write a short story in a day or two, a novelette or novella in a few to several days, and a novel in two to four weeks. And that feels plenty fast enough to me.

The challenge will be to write at least 2500 words of new fiction per day, period, and to take a day off without fretting over it when I need to.

This is incredibly freeing. What comes will come. The eventual form the story takes doesn’t matter. All that matters is putting new words on the page.

And, you know, the average. (grin)

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

PS: If you want some great long or short fiction, poetry, or nonfiction books on writing, everything I own is still half-price over at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/HEStanbrough, but only through tomorrow.

Patience Is a Virtue

Hey Folks,

Note: I hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas and will have a great New Year. One of my distributors, Smashwords, is offering a year-end sale in which I’m participating.

For only 8 days, December 25 through January 1, all of my books at Smashwords are on sale for 50% off. To take advantage of this year-end sale, visit https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/HEStanbrough, make your selections, and enter promotion code SEY50. Thanks, and enjoy!

Awhile back I mentioned it’s good to practice something new, some new technique you’ve learned, in each new story you write.

Over the past several novels, I’ve become very good at grounding the reader. I accomplish that primarily by providing intimate details regarding the setting and the people in it.

But as you already know if you follow my Daily Journal, I do a lot of cycling.

Sometimes I cycle back to insert something the characters spring on me later in the story.

For example, say in Chapter 26 Aunt Marge suddenly pulls a .32 caliber revolver out of her house dress and shoots an intruder.

If that happens, I cycle back to when she first put on the house dress, say back in Chapter 18, and allow her to take the revolver from her night stand and slip it into the pocket of her house dress.

This accomplishes two things:

One, it negates the “miracle” of the revolver suddenly appearing just when it’s needed.

Two, it makes the reader feel the writer is a genius. After all, how did the writer know, way back in Chapter 18, that our dear Aunt Marge would need that revolver in Chapter 26?

Cycling will remain an invaluable aid for precisely those two reasons.

However, most of the time when I cycled back in my last several novels, I did so because I got in too big a hurry. I rushed the characters through the scenes, especially action scenes, and thereby missed much that they were trying to add.

Like how the setting looked, smelled, tasted, felt and sounded. And the POV character’s opinion of all that.

So most of the time, I was cycling back to slow myself down and let the characters add what was necessary to both ground the reader in the scene and to give the story depth.

So in this novel, the “new” technique I’m practicing is adding that depth and grounding the reader as I go.

I’ll still cycle back at the beginning of every session. But I expect I’ll be adding fewer words to older scenes and writing a lot more words in new scenes.

In other words, I’m taking my time. I’m still hitting around a thousand words an hour, but they’re more substantive words. Words that aren’t rushed and don’t skimp on necessary details.

In still other words, I’m practicing patience as I write. I understand it’s a virtue. I just wish it would hurry up and get here. (grin)

‘Til next time,

Harvey

PS: Cycling also helps me avoid rewriting and enables me to adhere to Heinlein’s Rules. If you haven’t seen them, you can get a free copy here.